Chef Sam Diminich delivers the power of healthy food to those in recovery from addiction.
by Sharon Smith
photographs by Justin Driscoll
For many of us, after a hard day or difficult stretch, having a good meal does more than just fill the belly. It’s comforting and often sustaining. It’s why during times of crisis or grief, neighbors bring casseroles and pound cakes — or deliver a hearty takeout meal. Food may not fix the problem, but it sure helps nourish the body, and sometimes the soul.
Chef Sam Diminich knows every bit of that to be true. Talk with him for just a moment and you quickly learn that food is part of his story. He’s committed to “live sober out loud.” In his 30-year addiction journey, Diminich experienced homelessness and bounced around several treatment and detox centers. Healthy food was always an afterthought, even though his body needed fuel to aid his recovery.
So when a friend forwarded Diminich an email about the search for a chef at McLeod Addictive Disease Center in southwest Charlotte, he couldn’t hit delete. He wanted to know more and had a hunch he could help. “They are not a shiny Malibu clinic. They need all the sunshine they can get,” Diminich says.
“You’re experiencing the most challenging time of your life,” he says, speaking about recovery. There’s heartache and isolation. “Sometimes you just need a hot [expletive] meal. You can taste the compassion. It’s there. You taste it in the ingredients and how it’s prepared.”
That’s why he is so passionate about partnering with McLeod, which has served adults with substance-abuse disorders in the Charlotte region since 1969. Just a few weeks into the agreement, Diminich and his team are preparing and delivering healthy, protein-packed meals for in-house clients three times a day, seven days a week.
It’s not that Diminich needed more on his already full plate. He owns and operates Your Farms Your Table, a busy catering and meal-delivery service. He’s also the personal chef to Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey. This summer, Diminich rolled out a line of sauces and vinaigrettes, a response to what he calls a consistent request from customers. To top it off, he’s set to open Restaurant Constance, named after his daughter, in Wesley Heights this December.
Yet, because of who he is and where he’s been, Diminich wanted to make the McLeod partnership work. Logistically, it’s not easy to plan, prep, create and deliver hundreds of meals each week. He hired Tommy Bordsen, a chef with a corporate background, to solely manage the partnership. Each week, their team gets a patient headcount and details on dietary restrictions, then develops a meal plan based on seasonal availability.
An average breakfast, for example, is locally sourced eggs, bacon and fruit. Lunch may be a power-packed salad or rice bowl. Recently, a smoked chicken soup with vidalia onions and peak tomatoes was on the dinner menu. “It’s the same ingredients we use at Your Farms Your Table, but simply prepared,” Diminich says.
Veronica Moeller, director of treatment services at McLeod, works with Diminich on the meal program and says the response from clients has been positive. “The partnership is a good fit because of his and the company’s commitment to recovery and the community at large,” she says. It also provides patients with farm-fresh food and meals that they may not get elsewhere.
Beyond that, Moeller says there’s an added, intangible benefit to the Diminich partnership. “It is also an opportunity for people in the early stages of recovery to see someone in long-term recovery. They get to see that recovery is possible and people get well,” she says.
As someone who’s been through it, Diminich says part of his healing process involved putting service before self. The shift in thinking helps break a harmful cycle of isolation and forces the person in recovery to embrace community. Diminich says building that community connection is just part of how he does business, which includes supporting people in recovery, whether through employment or chef-prepared meals.
“Our message to the people out there eating our breakfast after a long night of difficulty or heartache, is that we care about you. We love you,” he says.
For Diminich, the fascination with working in the kitchen started as a young boy in his uncle’s Italian restaurant in Myrtle Beach. As an adult, he loves the connection to local farmers, the creativity and the energizing atmosphere of a commercial kitchen. He’s been behind the hustle and bustle of some of Charlotte’s most popular restaurants the past 15 years, including Upstream, Cantina 1511, Fran’s Filling Station and a slew of others.
None of the success he’s achieved felt possible in the depths of his addiction to drugs and alcohol. He vividly recalls receiving outpatient services at McLeod eight years ago. At that time, he wasn’t ready to fully claim his sobriety, but there were still meaningful takeaways. “Their messages of support and how important they were then — in many ways they planted a lot of seeds,” he says.
It wasn’t until after they worked out all the details that Diminich shared his own McLeod story with his new business partners. They’d been so focused on the task before them, Diminich says it got lost. Now, it adds a nice punctuation mark to the partnership. “The relationship became tighter,” he says. “I think it’s super special.” SP
Featured photograph: YFYT General Manager Jill Vande Woude; chef and owner Sam Diminich; Tommy Bordsen, chef of the Institutional Meals Division